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Houston expert: 4 tech trends to look out for in 2021

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year. Photo courtesy of Medley

The events of 2020 dramatically changed the way marketing agencies — like mine, Medley Inc. — do business. As we enter 2021, many executives are reflecting on how many of these changes will be sustained in the coming year.

From subscriptions to online shopping, the digital realm deserves our special attention in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medley, like many agencies, has pivoted to produce virtual events, run more targeted ads on all platforms, and become even more cloud-based and systemized.

As a business owner, it's clear to me that many of these shifts will persist long after the pandemic has ended. Here are four of the greatest changes I have observed and how they will continue to affect the way we do business in 2021.

1. Events will be hybrids on and offline

From the American Academy of Pediatrics to IBM, the 2020 pandemic forced businesses and organizations to fully digitize in-person conferences and events. With the coronavirus vaccine only just now being rolled out, it's likely that we won't be able to bring these events fully offline anytime soon.

While some organizations will probably host offline versions of their events, they may boast smaller attendance than usual or utilize a hybrid on- and offline strategy to account for the health and safety of their attendees. Thankfully, 2020 proved that there are fresh, innovative ways to engage participants in a virtual experience. Plan ahead to continue this innovation in 2021.

2. A platform to look out for

Clubhouse is the latest virtual platform, developed to eliminate the fatigue of online video events while still offering a new way to connect with others — including celebrities, thought leaders, and like-minded peers. What makes Clubhouse unique is that it's a hybrid between a never ending conference and a podcast, letting you tune into speakers and engage in lively discussions at your leisure.

Many experts are speculating that Clubhouse may be the next big social media platform, and for good reason: there's something there for everyone. Personally, I love some of the daily affirmation events happening on the platform. Niche apps like Quilt, which is geared exclusively toward women -- have also emerged, attesting to the growing power of socially distanced connections.

3. Subscription services and content fees will continue

Virtually eliminating offline revenue streams meant that many content platforms had to get creative about how they would continue to be profitable during the coronavirus pandemic. Already, we're seeing more news sites add paywalls and subscription services (or increase pricing on existing services) — a trend that likely won't change anytime soon.

Online video streaming is no exception to the rule. For example, Netflix recently announced a fee increase for 2021. Climbing content fees are likely a result of increased competition in the online streaming space, which has changed the way we consume traditional TV and movies.

As opposed to cable services, which pose a single monthly subscription fee for access to a variety of channels, the shows and films we love are contracted to single streaming platforms. Businesses like Netflix recognize that with this shift, we are increasingly willing to shell out a premium in order to continue consuming the content we love.

4. We will see more options with online shopping

As you may have noticed, Instagram now has a feature called Instagram Shopping. The department store giant Wal-Mart also partnered with influencers and Tik-Tok for Christmas to sell products in time for the holidays. Increased availability of online shopping is a natural evolution of a pandemic that makes it risky to leave our houses to go to the store. However, it's also a reflection of our society's growing need for convenience and instant gratification during the shopping experience.

In 2021, I anticipate that these options will only continue to grow. Expect products to appear at every turn on social media, whether you're scrolling your feed or watching an influencer live. As a result, we'll all need to be prepared to practice restraint each time we see items tailored to our interests.

At Medley, we're leaning into data-driven strategy and imagining the client experiences we've grown to love in a virtual world indefinitely. Regardless of what the future brings, we now know that there's a more convenient way to reach our consumers, connect and indulge a bit too.

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Ashley Small is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Medley Inc., a digital marketing and PR firm.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston expert outlines what startups and small business need to know about their communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.

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